An Insider’s Guide to Canada

Riding on a boat on a lake in Canada

Canada is a big country, and you will find a ton of information on it in blogs and articles, but sometimes you need a quick rundown to give you a rough idea of where to go and what to do. That’s the intention of this Insider’s guide to Canada. Since the summer is fast approaching and folks are starting to make their vacation plans, an insider’s guide can give you a reliable overview of the highlights to help your planning along. Here goes:

Niagara Falls

Most people have heard of Niagara Falls; they are regularly classed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. And sometimes they are included in the official eight wonders of the world. That’s not surprising; they are the largest waterfalls in North America.

If you decide to visit this iconic natural wonder, fly into Toronto and take the 90 minute drive down the highway. Watch this wonder before you, or get closer with a Maid of the Mist boat tour. In addition to the falls, there’s lots to see and do in the Niagara Falls area.

Whistler Mountain

Canada is known for its Rocky Mountains, and no wonder, with such a special landscape spanning much of Western Canada. But perhaps, one of the most famous mountains is Whistler. Whistler Mountain is located 125km north of Vancouver and is well known for its winter skiing and outdoor activities.

But Whistler Mountain has much to offer in the summer months as well. The mountain is 2,182 meters high, and there is almost always snow at the higher elevations, even in the summer sun. You don’t have to hike the whole way to have an incredible experience; just do what feels comfortable.

Quebec City

Quebec City is the capital of French-speaking Canada. It was established in 1608, making it one of the oldest cities in Canada and North America. The original Old Quebec City is a walled city and is home to some amazing historical architecture.

If you decide to travel here this summer with your partner or your family, you are in for a magical experience. The city offers a wealth of culture and cuisine you won’t find anywhere else. Quebec City makes for a great short vacation in summer or winter. If you are visiting Canada, this is what happens after an eta application.

St. John’s

If historical cities are your thing, then take a visit to St. John’s in the northeast. St. John’s pre-dates Quebec City by around 100 years. It was established in 1497. It doesn’t have the same medieval feel as Quebec City; in fact, as a coastal city it has a distinct Maritime feel.

St. John’s is known as the San Francisco of the north because of its pastel-colored houses and artistic sensibility, but it has more to offer besides. Off the coast of St. John’s, there are Atlantic waters perfect for whale-watching, and you can take a trip to see icebergs as well.

Tofino

People don’t always realize how much Canada has to offer. It has the Rockies, of course, the wildlife, the cities, and the great lakes, but it also has something more exotic – an island paradise. Yes indeed.

Where is this island paradise then, you ask? The answer is Tofino on Vancouver Island off the west coast. Tofino is primarily a beach location that looks onto the pacific. It offers some incredible sunsets, excellent surfing, and much more besides.

Looking over the water in Tofino, British Columbia

Churchill

Canada is home to many famous places and landmarks that you could spend a lifetime visiting and getting value from, but it’s also how to some lesser-known places that can offer big wins in terms of value-adding, life-enhancing experiences.

Churchill is one of those places. It sounds a bit stuffy, like the top-hat wearing Prime Minister from the 1940s, but it’s way more interesting than that. This is polar bear country, and if you visit, there will definitely be a chance to see one of these towering giants – eat your heart out Churchill.

Old Montreal

If you love Quebec City, then you will also love Old Montreal. It dates back to around the same time as Quebec City, established in 1642. And like Quebec City, it can be found in the heart of the city. Montreal is a very culture rich and authentic place to visit.

Travel to Montreal if you want a continental experience within the Canadian borders. You will find plenty of historic buildings, nightlife, and seasonal events to keep you and your family entertained. There’s lots to see and do in Montreal. This is the cosmopolitan Canada that will appeal to everyone.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a gateway to the Rockies and perfect if you have all the gear but lack some experience of hiking. Banff National Park is located around some natural hot springs and gives you the best of both worlds.

Spend some time hiking in the surrounding wilderness, following the well-trodden paths to low summits where you get the best view of the landscape. Absorb it all, then return to the springs for a well-earned relaxer.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park in Vancouver is a bit like Central Park in New York. It’s an extensive city park that is in all seasons and is famous for all the right reasons. Stanley Park is where many of the romantic fall walks in TV shows and the movies are filmed, even ones set in NYC.

Stanley Park is a big place, and there are tons of things to keep you occupied and entertained. You can spend all day at the park and take a leisurely walk, going hiking, lay on the beach, visit native totem poles, and drop by the lively aquarium.

Okanagan Valley

If you’re in Western Canada, and you’re in Vancouver, then you are a short flight or 4-hour drive to the Okanagan. Take full advantage of this and head northeast to the Okanagan Valley. Here you will find the Okanagan Lake and plenty of sunshine and native wine.

Okanagan Valley has it all. Food highlights include chef prepared outdoor farm to table dining experiences for small groups. The lake is clear and sparkling, the sunshine is pretty much continuous, and you can visit many orchards and vineyards.

The mountains of British Columbia

The Charm of Old Quebec City

Looking up at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City

The charm of Old Quebec City never gets old. I’ve been to Quebec City a number of times. The first time as a youngster on a driving vacation with the family. The first overnight stop from Toronto was Quebec City. I remember walking through the gates of the old city and feeling like I had stepped back in time. Thankfully the old city is still there today. And it’s a real treat.

Quebec City – History

The old city walls in Quebec City, Canada
The old cobbled streets in Old Quebec City

Old Quebec is the only walled city in Canada or the U.S. and is designated as a World Heritage treasure by UNESCO. It’s a mix of history, architecture, heritage, art, and culture and is widely viewed as the home of French civilization in North America.

Early Canadian and French history abounds with numerous historic buildings and museums including the Musée de la civilisation. There are many art galleries and boutiques with a French flair. Restaurants and pubs have a warm and intimate feel and most feature Quebec fare including rabbit, deer, and duck confit poutine.

An old hanging store sign in Old Quebec City

Quebec City – My Favourite Hotel

In room historic artifacts with written descriptions in each room at the Auberge Saint-Antoine

While there’s a variety of hotels to choose from within Old Quebec and Quebec City itself, my favorite is the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Located in the heart of Old Quebec, the Auberge sits on an historic site dating back to the 16oos. As a member of Relais and Cheataux, the hotel has a strong focus on service and luxury. There are only 60 rooms with no 2 rooms alike, and each contains artifacts that were found on site. Their Panache Restaurant is incredible with Michelin star chef and a very imaginative menu.

Hotel room at the Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City
Bathroom and amenities at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, Quebec City
In room amenities at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, Quebec City

Quebec City – Winter or Summer?

Quebec City is like 2 different destinations in the winter and the summer. In the winter, it can hit -30c. So cold it’s painful but beyond beautiful especially during the Carnaval de Québec (the annual Winter Carnival runs from late January to the middle of February).

In the summer, there’s the Festival d’été de Québec in July, Canada’s biggest outdoor music event. Quebec City is warm and inviting with quaint streets to wonder down and walking trails to explore along the St.Lawrence River. Outdoor cafes abound and you’ll find yourself stepping back in time… and thinking about your next visit.

A Foodie’s Travel Itinerary for Italy

This Post Was Originally Published on the TuGo Travel Blog on May 21, 2019 by Mark Crone

A foodie’s travel itinerary for Italy—where to begin? When it comes to food, Italy is in a league of its own, with so many possible itineraries and meal choices for every palate. Yes, Italian food is available outside of Italy, but the fresh, local ingredients make Italian food jump to another level when you’re there! If you need a reason to travel, or need a reason to see Italy at all, food is certainly a good one.

Italy has 20 different regions, each unique with its own food specialties. A single travel itinerary with all 20 regions would be a dream come true! But to be more realistic, this foodie travel itinerary includes a few hand-picked regions this time (with a return trip to follow).

Venice

A great starting point for your foodie travel itinerary is Venice. Tourists are everywhere, and the streets are always packed. The main walking routes offer quick Italian takeout foods like slices of pizza, baked goods, and gelato. When you venture off the main routes, you’ll find side streets and squares or “piazzas” where the locals are. The small neighbourhoods with cafes and restaurants are where you’ll enjoy an authentic Italian meal. Venice is not particularly known for a cuisine of its own, but you’ll find seafood and pasta aplenty.

Gondola boats on the canals of Venice

Naples

If you’re a fan of stone oven pizza, the birthplace of pizza, Naples, must be on your itinerary. In the 18th century, an inventive chef was said to have added tomato to traditional Roman focaccia flat bread. Authentic Neapolitan pizza has a thin crust, flavorful sauce and a dusting of cheese.

Among the many pizzerias in Naples, there are a couple that stand out. Gino’s is Italian-style fast food, and pizza at its best. Big, delicious, and ready in 5 minutes. You’ll be lining up for a table unless you book in advance, but it’s well worth the wait. The Neapolitans also head to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba—the oldest pizzeria in the world, dating back to 1830. Even with just the traditional ingredients, there is a marked difference in taste.

A delicious pizza in Naples

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is all about the views, and getting there adds to the excitement. From Naples, we drive south along the highway, then onto the winding roads of Sorrento and its long mountain tunnel. Positano, most famous for its incredible coastal views, is our first destination on the Amalfi Coast. It also has some of the region’s top hotels, including Le Sirenuse, with its Michelin-starred restaurant, La Sponda. It’s not cheap by any means, but well worth the 5-star experience. Down on the beach, there are some great restaurants including Chez Black and Le Tre Sorelle–both highly rated and right beside each other. From Positano, you can easily make day trips to Amalfi, Ravello, Scala and others.

A sunset view of the Amalfi Coast

Rome

A foodie’s trip to Rome is akin to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Within the ancient city and its grand architecture lie restaurants that combine fresh ingredients into simple dishes. Perhaps the best example is the classic Roman dish, Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). This dish is made with 3 ingredients – black pepper, pecorino romano cheese, and pasta (normally spaghetti). A gastronomic euphoria takes over when these ingredients combine to create a dish that has been indulged since ancient Roman times.

A plate of pasta in Rome

Roman food also has the adept ability to use “poor man’s” ingredients known as quinto quarto. These are the animal parts that are often frowned upon including tongue, tripe, brain, and liver. If you’re adventurous, you’ll enjoy trying these dishes. If you’re a picky eater, why not give quinto quarto a try under the adage ‘when in Rome!’

Hostaria Costanza is the place to go for traditional old Roman dining. Built from the ruins of Pompey’s Theatre, Hostaria Contanza is overflowing with Roman/Italian atmosphere. Some of my favourites include fried artichokes with cheese stuffed zucchini flowers, crepes funghi e tartufo (mushroom and truffle), ravioli di carciofi (ravioli with artichokes) and a tender beef fillet with Barolo wine sauce. And of course, all meals are enjoyed a little more with a glass of the house red wine.

Tuscany

There are so many reasons to include Tuscany in your foodie Italian travel itinerary. The wine, the food, the scenery and the people. Among the many wines, the Classico Chianti (with the black rooster on the bottle neck) stands out. The other well-known wine in the area is the Super Tuscan, blended from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Among the very best wineries to get a Super Tuscan (and other quality wines) is Villa San Andrea. The small 400-year-old winery provides an intimate tour and wine tasting for just 10 Euros.

Cobblestone streets in Tuscany

Among the many places to visit in Tuscany are Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, Montalcino and of course, Florence. You really can’t go wrong wherever you go, but San Gimignano stands out. It’s an amazing, well-preserved medieval village with several small hotels, shops, museums, and Tuscan restaurants.

My favourite restaurant is Le Vecchie Mura. It has both a restaurant inside and an outside terrace area across the lane. Authentic dishes feature pasta, steak, rabbit, deer, wild boar and of course, local wine. Eating a Tuscan meal overlooking Tuscany views is hard to beat.

An experienced travel agent will save you time and money in planning your foodie travel itinerary for Italy. You’ll need to book airfare, accommodations and a car rental to make this Italy dream trip a reality. Start planning and get packing–and bring your appetite!

Safe travels,

Mark